Posts Tagged Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company

Evanston Fire Department history Part 24

From Phil Stenholm:

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department

The Ballad of the Lucille McQuade

On January 12, 1915, a fire was reported at the Nally livery stable, located adjacent to the Greenwood Inn (formerly known as the “French House”) at Greenwood & Hinman. The Greenwood Inn was one of Evanston’s two hotels at the time, the other being the world-famous Avenue House at Davis & Chicago. The blaze started on the 2nd floor of the stable while guests were dining in the hotel. Bessie Gallagher disobeyed police officers and ran headlong into the inferno to retrieve personal belongings, before being rescued by Evanston firefighters. She was then arrested by Evanston police and charged with disorderly conduct and failure to obey a police officer. Damage to the livery stable was estimated at $3,000, but nobody was injured and quick work by Evanston firefighters saved the hotel.  

Two weeks later, in the early-morning hours of January 28th, the EFD responded to a report of a blaze at Mrs. I. C. Danwood’s boarding house at 1925 Sherman Ave. Boarder C. C. Firman sustained fractures to both ankles when he leaped from a second floor window to escape the flames prior to the arrival of firefighters. The EFD encountered fire blowing through the roof upon arrival, and although firemen rescued the other boarders without injury to civilians or firemen, fire suppression efforts were significantly hampered when a fire hydrant stem broke off while firefighters were connecting a suction hose to the plug. Firefighters did eventually connect to a different hydrant further way, but the initial delay resulted in total loss of the house and contents to the tune of $7,000. However, the EFD did manage to save surrounding structures after taking defensive positions and setting up an elevated master stream from atop the HDA’s aerial ladder and a high-pressure stream from the Eastman “deluger” on the street, both supplied by multiple 2-1/2 inch hose lines.

On April 20, 1915, voters in the Village of Wilmette approved a $20,000 bond issue authorizing purchase of a motorized automobile fire engine, and construction of a combination police / fire station on the west-side of Railroad Avenue south of Lake Ave. The Wilmette F. D. took delivery of an American-LaFrance Type 75, 750-GPM triple-combination-pumper later in the year, and the rig was in continuous front-line service with the Wilmette Fire Department as its first-due engine for more than 25 years. The police / fire station was in service for 50 years.  

At 2 PM on Sunday, May 15, 1915, chemicals exploded in the film-developing room of the Will E. Horton camera shop in the Simpson Building on Davis Street. All three of the EFD’s engine companies went to work at this fire, but the camera shop was gutted and the C. H. Morgan grocery store next-door was heavily damaged by smoke before the blaze could be extinguished. $8,500 damage to the camera shop and the grocery store. .   

At noon on Saturday, July 3, 1915, EFD Engine Co. 2 and Motor Engine Co. 1 responded to a report of a fire on the roof of the residence of Mrs. Margaret Patterson at 529 Lee St. The blaze was apparently sparked by an errant 4th of July bottle-rocket that had gone awry. Flames quickly communicated to the roofs of houses to the west and east, and while firemen managed to extinguish the blaze before any other structures became involved in fire, the roof and second floor of the Patterson residence, and the roofs of the neighboring Robert Larimer and John W. Fellows residences were heavily damaged. Fireman William Wilbern (Engine Co. 2) suffered only minor injuries when the roof of the Patterson residence collapsed onto him while he was attacking fire in the attic from a second floor bedroom.    

EFD Chief Albert Hofstetter attended the International Association of Fire Engineers Convention in Cincinnati in September 1915, and subsequently reported to the city council that although a few fire departments were still purchasing horse-drawn steamers and aerial ladder trucks, no horse-drawn fire apparatus was displayed at the convention. He said that automobile firefighting apparatus were much improved over what was available when Evanston purchased its Robinson Jumbo in 1911, and that it was expected that horse-drawn rigs would be replaced by automobile fire trucks and engines across the country in very short order.

In addition, Hofstetter noted that a new fully-automated aerial ladder was demonstrated at the convention. Built by Ahrens-Fox on a Couple Gear chassis and combining the Dahill Air Hoist system with an 85-ft wooden aerial-ladder supplied by Pirsch, the stick could be raised by one man in just 11 seconds, Conversely, the 1907 American-LaFrance 85-ft HDA in service with the Evanston Fire Department at that time had a spring-loaded aerial-ladder that was fully-raised by a windlass, and two men were required to crank the winch.

On Saturday night, January 8, 1916, fire gutted Rosenberg’s Department Store at 820 Davis St. As was the case at the Heck Hall fire two years earlier, two Chicago F. D. engine companies assisted. This time, both of the CFD companies sent to Evanston — Engine Co. 102 and Engine Co. 110 — were equipped with modern gasoline-powered automobile pumpers. Engine 102 had a brand-new Seagrave, and Engine 110 had the 1912 Webb that previously was assigned to Engine Co. 102. With EFD Motor Engine No. 1 (the Robinson “Jumbo”) also working at the scene, it was a chance for Evanston officials to compare the performance of the three automobile pumpers under “game” conditions.

Two thousand spectators gathered at Fountain Square, as Evanston and Chicago firemen fought the blaze well into Sunday morning. All three of the automobile pumpers ran out of gas after the EFD’s reserve fuel supply of 120 gallons was exhausted, but more gasoline was eventually located at a nearby garage. EFD Capt. Ed Johnson (Motor Engine Co. 1) was seriously injured at this fire, but eventually recovered and returned to duty. The $58,700 loss set a new mark for the 2nd-highest from a fire in Evanston’s history up to that point in time.

The American-LaFrance horse-drawn 85-foot windlass-operated aerial-ladder truck (HDA) with a four-horse hitch that was purchased by Evanston in 1907 for $6,700 was in service for only nine years. It was demolished in a collision with an Evanston Street Railway Company streetcar at Grove & Sherman while responding to an alarm on Hinman Avenue in the early-evening hours of September 18, 1916. Two firemen — Dan McKimmons and Orville Wheeler — were thrown to the ground when the rig tipped over and were seriously injured in the crash.

The Evanston Street Railway Company claimed the crash was unavoidable and refused to accept responsibility for the accident, and so the City of Evanston began civil litigation to force the ESRC’s insurance company to pay for a new HDA. Unfortunately, the City of Evanston had somehow neglected to insure the HDA, so winning the court case was the only way the city could pay for a new one without a significant emergency appropriation or a voter-approved bond issue.  

While waiting for the lawsuit to be settled, the Evanston City Council came up with a plan to sell two of the four horses that had been assigned to pull the demolished HDA, and use the money to lease a relatively new hook & ladder truck (without an aerial-ladder) @ $60 per month from the Chicago sales office of American LaFrance. This two-horse H&L — which had previously been in service in Peru, Indiana — was in excellent condition, and it ran as EFD Truck No. 1 for about six months while it was being advertised for sale.

American LaFrance sold the ex-Peru rig to the fire department of Toronto, Ontario, in March 1917. The EFD then leased an 1891 LaFrance / Hayes 55-ft aerial ladder truck with a three-horse hitch known as the “Lucille M. McQuade” that had been in service for 25 years as Chattanooga Fire Department Truck No. 1. The Chattanooga F. D. had just recently purchased an automobile 75-foot TDA from American-LaFrance, and the old HDA was traded-in as part of the deal. This early vintage of HDA was peculiar in that the tillerman rode – BELOW – the aerial-ladder!

Receiving the ex-Chattanooga HDA with a three-horse hitch as the replacement for the ex-Peru H&L with a two-horse hitch required the EFD to find another horse, so the venerable 1873 Babcock double-50-gallon chemical engine was taken out of front-line service and its horse was transferred to the HDA. The EFD returned the Lucille McQuade to American-LaFrance and the three horses that had been used to pull it were retired after a new automobile city service ladder truck arrived from Seagrave in November 1917. It was part of the $30,000 bond issue passed by Evanston voters in April 1917 that fully-motorized the EFD.

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Evanston Fire Department History – Part 15

Another installment about History of Evanston Fire Department


In March 1906, the Evanston Fire Department took delivery of a new American LaFrance “Metropolitan” 700-GPM second-size steam fire engine with a three-horse hitch. It was the first apparatus acquired by the EFD that required more than two horses to pull it, and it cost $5,500, plus $250 for a new horse that was added to the two already assigned to Engine 1. The new Metropolitan steamer was heavier and more-powerful than the Ahrens Metropolitan 600-GPM second-size steamer with a two-horse hitch that had been in service with the EFD since 1895. 

The plan was for the older Ahrens Metropolitan steamer to be sent to the American LaFrance factory in Elmira, NY, for a complete overhaul, after-which it would be returned to Evanston and placed into service at Station # 2. However, the Evanston City Council declined to appropriate funds to purchase two additional horses and hire additional manpower that would be needed in order to place the second steamer into front-line service, so while the older steamer was indeed moved into Station # 2 after it came back from Elmira, it was kept in reserve status for several years until such time as more horses could be purchased and additional manpower could be hired. 

The Metropolitan was the most-popular steam fire engine of the day, and while Evanston’s new Metropolitan steamer was built by American-LaFrance, the EFD’s older Metropolitan steamer was built by the Ahrens Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati, OH. The Metropolitan was invented in the 1890’s by Chris Ahrens, founder of the Ahrens Manufacturing Company, and along with Button, Clapp & Jones, and Silsby, Ahrens was one of four steam fire engine companies that merged to form the American Fire Engine Company (AFEC) in 1891. This was the era of monopolies and trusts, and the purpose of establishing AFEC was to reduce or maybe even eventually eliminate competition, consolidate the sales force, and maximize profits. Although each of the four companies maintained their own separate corporate identity, AFEC production facilities were located at the Ahrens Manufacturing Company plant in Cincinnati and at the Silsby Manufacturing Company plant in Seneca Falls, NY. However, because the other two major steam fire engine manufacturers of the day — Amoskeag and LaFrance  — did not participate in the merger, the overall benefit of the AFEC consolidation was minimal.

While there were four steam fire engine manufactures under the AFEC umbrella, Ahrens was by far the biggest and most-successful. Ahrens built its Metropolitan steamer in various sizes, and it was sold to fire departments — including the Evanston F. D. — across the country throughout the 1890s. Ahrens also manufactured the radical / eccentric, overly-heavy, and not very successful “Columbian,” which was built for and displayed at the World’s Columbian Exposition at Jackson Park in Chicago in 1893. The Columbian featured both a standard steam engine AND a hose supply-bed on the same rig. The common practice at the time the Columbian was being introduced and marketed was for an engine company to operate with a steam fire engine and a hose cart running as separate rigs, and unfortunately for Ahrens, most fire chiefs at that time just could not see the advantage of combining the two functions in one apparatus.

While the American Fire Engine Company was attempting to establish itself as the “big dog” in the world of steam fire engines, the LaFrance Fire Engine Company was busy acquiring patents for both the Hayes and the Babcock aerial-ladders, the two most popular aerial-ladder designs of the 19th century, effectively giving LaFrance control over the manufacture of all aerial-ladder trucks built in the U. S.  It was not until 1900 — when the American Fire Engine Company merged with LaFrance, Amoskeag, and a number of other manufacturers of firefighting equipment and apparatus such as the Rumsey Company, Gleason & Bailey, the Charles T. Holloway Company, and the Macomber Fire Extinguisher Company to form the International Fire Engine Company, that the trust was fully established.

The International Fire Engine Company name was changed to American-LaFrance Fire Engine Company as all production moved to the LaFrance plant in Elmira, NY, in 1904, but just as with AFEC ten years earlier, post-merger profits were not as great as had been anticipated, in part thanks to a new kid on the block.

The Seagrave Corporation was located in Columbus, OH, and while Seagrave did not build steam fire engines, it did manufacture first-rate horse-drawn chemical engines and hook & ladder trucks, as well as the very popular “combination truck,” so-called because it combined a chemical engine and a hook & ladder truck in one apparatus. Seagrave combination trucks were in service with fire departments across the U. S., and then beginning in 1900, Seagrave started manufacturing horse-dawn aerial-ladder trucks that competed successfully with the American-LaFrance aerial-ladder truck.

Meanwhile, tired of living the life of a retired independently wealthy squire, Chris Ahrens rediscovered his latent entrepreneurial spirit and sold his share in American-LaFrance in 1904. Together with sons John and Fred and son-in-law and Cincinnati Fire Chief Charles H. Fox, formed a new company called the Ahrens Fire Engine Company at the old Ahrens Manufacturing Company plant in Cincinnati. The company’s name was changed to the Ahrens-Fox Fire Engine Company in 1908 when Charles Fox became company president, and it quickly became the # 2 steam fire engine manufacturer and American-LaFrance’s chief competitor in the area of steam fire engines. But it wasn’t easy.

Because American-LaFrance retained all patents held by the various companies that formed ALF — including the Metropolitan patent originally filed by Chris Ahrens in the 1890s  — Ahrens-Fox could not build the Metropolitan. And so instead, Chris Ahrens invented, developed, and built a completely new steam fire engine called the “Continental” that did not infringe on any existing patents, and in fact the Ahrens-Fox Continental sold very well, and might even have eventually matched or even exceeded American-LaFrance’s Metropolitan in sales, except the steam fire engine era came to a rather abrupt end in 1915.

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